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Non-binary legend Jonathan Van Ness explains why using people’s pronouns correctly is so important

Vic Parsons October 11, 2021
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Jonathan Van Ness

(Cosmopolitan UK/Rachell Smith)

Non-binary Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness has a very clear message about using people’s pronouns correctly that everyone needs to hear.

JVN came out as non-binary in June 2019, explaining how he had come to the realisation.

“I didn’t really put [my behaviour] together with ‘gender non-conforming’ or ‘non-binary’ or owning that as an identity until recent because I think I just thought that I loved skirts and heels and like a kind of Whole Foods Face,” he said.

“I just am either like gender-bendy or non-conform-y or non-binary and somedays I feel like a boy and somedays I feel like a girl. I didn’t think I was allowed to be non-conforming or genderqueer or non-binary — I was just always like ‘a gay man’ because that’s just the label I thought I had to be.”

He added: “Comments come from everyone, but I really feel like if you’re expressing yourself and like that’s what you really feel, then I don’t care. I’m just being who I wanna be.”

Talking about pronouns, JVN – who is happy to be referred with he, she or they – has also stressed how important is is to address people with the correct pronouns.

Emphasising that he doesn’t mind which pronouns people use for him, JVN said that people who use they/them pronouns, like Sam Smith, must have those pronouns used for them correctly and without question.

“For me, when I came out as non-binary, I didn’t use ‘they/them’. I am literally OK with ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’,” JVN said.

“I’ve never felt the binary was something I fit into anyway, even though I didn’t know there was anything I could do about it… Sometimes ‘her’ is something I totes want to dim and other times it’s not.”

When Sam Smith asked the public and media to use their pronouns, several media outlets didn’t comply – with articles announcing their pronouns also misgendering them.

JVN said: “I saw a lot of people on Twitter who were out of their goddamn minds to Sam Smith when they came out. There was a lot of support for them [Sam Smith] but I also saw a lot of trolls.

“So I do think there are a lot of people who need to do a lot more work on understanding that binaries are a very recent construct that are used to hold people down, and to ‘other’ people all the time.

“When we ‘other’ people we can diminish them and treat them any way we like, and we know that othering people is super dangerous. So I do think there needs to be more work and more understanding. I think it’s good we’re having so many conversations. I also think that Sam Smith is FEARLESS and I just love and applaud them.”

Jonathan Van Ness also addressed what to do if you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns – ideally, thank the person who corrected you, state the correct pronoun in the place of the incorrect one you just used, and carry on.

“The thing to do if you do make a mistake is to not keep bringing it up,” he said. “Like, acknowledge the mistake once, do better, and just keep going. Because if we keep bringing it up and keep apologising then it makes it about your mistake and it ‘others’ even more.

“I don’t want to speak for everyone else but I think if you can just say, ‘Got it, respecting you, coming to that table and conversation all force.’ Maybe just issue one blanket apology ahead of time and then really do your best.”

More: Jonathan Van Ness, pronouns, queer eye, Sam Smith

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